KFARDEBIAN, Lebanon: Perhaps the only thing more intriguing at Faqra's classic-car show than Michael Jackson’s Rolls Royce was its current owner.
Hamad and Edwin Mouawad are 15- and 21-years-old respectively, and they were far and away the youngest vintage car collectors among the cigar-sucking businessmen and eager-eyed fanatics at the Red Carpet Classic Auto Festival at Le Clos de Faqra over the weekend.
The show featured around three dozen cars from post-World War II onward, all of which have been painstakingly restored by Lebanese vintage-car enthusiasts bolt by bolt. And the open-air exhibition space included even older relics than ’50s cars, as the location up in the mountains of Faqra faced ancient Roman temple ruins.
Standing by their star in show, the Mouawad brothers happily chatted about their collection – the older brother still sporting a shiny row of braces.
The “King of Pop” owned the black 1980 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith II and later gave it to his mother, Katherine Jackson, as a gift. The young brothers recently bought the car at an auction in the United States.
For now, the two say their interest remains collecting and restoring – not selling – the cars they find.
“It’s just a hobby,” Hamad said. Jackson’s car was their second in a collection that has grown to three classic cars. The pair has plans to restore the Rolls Royce in the coming weeks with a new paint job and a reupholstered interior.
Collecting classic cars costs a bit more than the average change-stuffed piggy bank can buy. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Fadi Younis, a senior manager at RYMCO car dealers, said restoring a classic car back to 60 or 70 percent of its original state can cost upward of $90,000.
Classic car restorers use a manufacturing number, called the VIN number, to match their vintage model with the corresponding original parts. “Down to each screw,” said Nabil Moustafa, organizer of the event and founder of Arab Tuning Digital Magazine.
If authentic pieces can’t be found, then so-called new-old car parts will suffice as replicas of the originals.
Most of the cars at the auto show were at least 80 percent restored, Moustafa said. Many of the cars also have only their original mileage, some as little as 10,000 miles.
In addition to showing off vintage rides, the exhibit offered show space for the classic Russian Ural sidecar motorcycle, Harley Davidson, wine tastings and a fashion show by high-end designer shop Rodeo Drive.
Many of the classic cars were limited edition models, whose numbers have declined with time and made them a rare find.
Among the more unique cars was a tomato-red 1971 Dodge Challenger Convertible and a 1972 Ferrari Daytona (365 GTB/4). Both companies made less than 2,000 cars of these models.
Perhaps one of the rarest cars on display was a black 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman – only 50 cars of this model remain today.
Among the more interesting vehicles was a 1960 BMW Isetta, an egg-shaped, single-cylinder car that became known as the bubble car for its rounded shape. And an ivory 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL offered an example of one of the first sports cars to include such safety features as a rigid passenger cell, specially made crumple zones and impact-absorbing sections at the front and back of the car.
The oldest car on display was a white 1949 Chrysler Plymouth Special Deluxe from the first model line of Chrysler after World War II.
As for the thousands of rickety Mercedes still driving the streets of Beirut as cabs, Moustafa said, jokingly: “They’ll be vintage in 10 or 15 years.”